Northwest Africa 5790: A previously unsampled portion of the upper part of the nakhlite pile

J. Brian Balta, Matthew E. Sanborn, Rhiannon G. Mayne, Meenakshi Wadhwa, Harry Y. McSween, Samuel D. Crossley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


We present a geochemical study of recently discovered Martian meteorite Northwest Africa (NWA) 5790 and use our results to constrain its origin and relationship with the other nakhlites. This nakhlite is a clinopyroxene cumulate composed of phenocrysts of augite, olivine, and rare oxides surrounded by a mesostasis composed of vitrophyric glass, feldspars, oxides, phosphates, and fine-grained olivines and augite. Petrography, and major and trace element compositions of the phases present are consistent with derivation of NWA 5790 from a parental magma common to all the nakhlites. Olivine cores grew from a distinct, incompatible-element enriched magma and are surrounded by rims containing augite inclusions that grew from the nakhlite parental liquid, supporting previous arguments for xenocrystic olivine cores in nakhlites. Rare earth element microdistributions suggest derivation of NWA 5790 augites from an evolved, relatively oxidized magma, produced by augite fractionation from the common nakhlite parental liquid. Augite grain shapes and CSD patterns are consistent with rapid cooling and derivation near the top of the nakhlite cumulate pile, but patterns are distinct from other nakhlites thought to have formed near the stratigraphic top. The high mesostasis abundance (~44 vol%) indicates solidification near the top of the nakhlite pile close to locations suggested for nakhlites NWA 817 and Miller Range (MIL) 03346. However, the geochemical and petrographic characteristics of these three samples do not permit their placement in a simple stratigraphic order as would occur in a single lava flow. This lack of simple ordering suggests that the nakhlite lava flow split into multiple sections as would occur during breakouts from a single lava flow. Finally we note that NWA 5790 is unique among currently available nakhlites in having phenocryst abundances low enough to allow it to flow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-59
Number of pages24
JournalMeteoritics and Planetary Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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